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RKO 281 (1999)

Trailer
2:49 | Trailer

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Orson Welles produces his greatest film, Citizen Kane (1941), despite the opposition of the film's de facto subject, William Randolph Hearst.

Director:

Benjamin Ross

Writers:

John Logan, Richard Ben Cramer (documentary "The Battle Over Citizen Kane") | 1 more credit »
Reviews
Won 1 Golden Globe. Another 13 wins & 27 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Liev Schreiber ... Orson Welles
James Cromwell ... William Randolph Hearst
Melanie Griffith ... Marion Davies
John Malkovich ... Herman Mankiewicz
Brenda Blethyn ... Louella Parsons
Roy Scheider ... George Schaefer
Liam Cunningham ... Gregg Toland
David Suchet ... Louis B. Mayer
Fiona Shaw ... Hedda Hopper
Anastasia Hille ... Carole Lombard
Roger Allam ... Walt Disney
Simeon Andrews Simeon Andrews ... John Houseman
Bill Armstrong Bill Armstrong ... Mr. Lewis (as William Armstrong)
Jay Benedict ... Darryl Zanuck
Ron Berglas ... David O. Selznick
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Storyline

Coming to Hollywood as a celebrated boy genius featuring a spectacular career arc in New York including his radio hoax War of the Worlds, Orson Welles is stymied on the subject for his first film. After a dinner party at Hearst Castle, during which he has a verbal altercation with William Randolph Hearst, Welles decides to do a movie about Hearst. It takes him some time to convince co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz and the studio, but Welles eventually gets the script and the green light, keeping the subject very hush-hush with the press. The movie is about an aging newspaper publisher who controlled his enemies as ruthlessly as he controlled his friends; and whose mistress was destined for fame. When a rough cut is screened, Hearst gets wind of the movie's theme and begins a campaign to see that it is not only never publicly screened, but destroyed. Written by Greg Bulmash <greg@imdb.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Orson Welles used all his genius to create "Citizen Kane". William Randolph Hearst used all his power to try and destroy it. See more »

Genres:

Biography | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language and some graphic sexual images | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA | UK

Language:

English

Release Date:

20 November 1999 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

RKO 281: The Battle Over Citizen Kane See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$12,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital

Aspect Ratio:

16:9
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

This film perpetuates the myth that Marion Davies was the inspiration for the Susan Alexander character in Citizen Kane (1941). Orson Welles told filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich that this wasn't the case. Business tycoon Harold Fowler McCormick's lavish promotion of the opera career of his second wife was the direct influence for the character. "As for Marion [Davies]," Welles said, "she was an extraordinary woman-nothing like the character Dorothy Comingore played in the movie." See more »

Goofs

Louella Parsons storms out of a screening of "Citizen Kane" before it's finished. However, she later tells Hearst that "Rosebud" is a sled, even though that fact is only revealed in the last moment of the film. See more »

Quotes

Welles's Mother: Orson, come into the light. Never stand in the shadows -- you were made for the light. Always remember that.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Brief Film Reviews: My DVD/Blu-Ray Collection (2010) See more »

Soundtracks

I Can't Get Started
Written by Ira Gershwin and Vernon Duke
Performed by Bunny Berigan
Courtesy of The RCA Records Label of BMG Entertainment
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User Reviews

Good.. could've been much better..
3 June 2002 | by hrlaserSee all my reviews

You've probably read a lot of other comments, so I'll spare you the details of what "RKO 281" is about.. rather, my comments pertain to made-for-HBO films, particularly this one..

HBO's movies always strike me as a cut above the usual made for the small screen fare, but just a notch below being theatrical quality. There's a strange feeling of being manipulated, that I get from almost all their films, especially biopics like this one, "Truman", and their latest "Path To War" which they're running this month. HBO likes to take on monumental, historical characters, like Orson Welles, Harry S Truman, and LBJ, but seems to always surround them with characters who are portrayed as being slightly dumb, and made to look like fools, on purpose. It's as though HBO is telling us to look back into history and laugh at how naive and silly people were in decades past.. look at the dumb clothes they wore, the silly hairstyles, their mannerisms, while at the same time idealizing them..

In these kinds of films, cars are never dirty or dented. People never flub their words when speaking to each other. Homes and offices are always a paragon of cleanliness. Everything looks brand new. Staged. Too perfect.. Okay, perhaps realism is not what we want in our movies.. we live in homes that have dirty dishes in the sink and rumbled towels in the bathroom, and stacks of magazines on the tables.. but there ARE period films in which the "lived in" look IS quite well done.. witness Bob Raefelson's "The Postman Always Rings Twice."

While the set and art direction of "RKO 281" is stunning, everything is beautiful to look at: all the vast, wood-panelled offices of the Hollywood moguls, somehow, everything has an artificial look to it.

And then, there's Liev Schreiber's portrayal of a young Orson Wells.. Again, sometimes HBO can create a convincing lookalike - Gary Sinese as Harry S Truman was right on the money, Michael Gambon as LBJ comes sort of close, but doesn't quite ring true, but Schreiber simply doesn't look or sound anything like Orson Welles did. Welles had a booming baritone voice, an in-your-face style of projecting his words, and a simply riveting screen presence. Schreiber's lack of a jaw, and his delivery simply never convinced me that this man was Orson Welles.. This is not to take away from Schreiber's acting abilities at all.. he was simply the wrong actor for the part. And since he is the centerpiece of the film, the entire film suffers because of his weak Welles clone..

However, "RKO 281" _is_ worth watching, if just for the lush sets and atmospherics, and the far too few glimpses we get of the making of "Citizen Kane." But again, HBO made this film as a drama, not a documentary, and a drama relies on conflict.. and thus the film concentrates on the clash of personalities, not the creation of the best film ever made..


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